Over the last decade and a bit, the output of A. Savage as co-leader of indie rock titans Parquet Courts has produced more than its fair share of golden moments, and standing by itself would be enough for him to be worthy of a place amongst the greatest songwriters of his generation.
Whether it’s the battlecry of ‘Total Football’ calling listeners to fight oppressive forces in unison, the heartbroken balladry of ‘Human Performance’, or the vivid recollection of meeting an Elvis-obsessed murderer in ‘Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth’, the Texan expatriate played a vital role in the surge in prose-like post-punk that emerged from New York in the 2010s, with many regarding him as the totemic figure that stands at the centre of the scene.
As previously alluded to, it’s not always all punk-adjacent rippers that Savage pens, as he’s more than capable of producing tender moments among the raucous ones. This was at its clearest six years ago when he first released material by his own name, with debut album Thawing Dawn delving into a realm of Americana-tinged traditionalism that came as something of a curveball in the wake of Parquet Courts’ rapid rise.
While Thawing Dawn wasn’t exactly showered with as much adoration as his best known work, it was still a fascinating window into Savage’s process and how he operates without the support of his regular bandmates. In its (sort of) sequel, Several Songs About Fire, we’re treated to further musings on life, its peculiar characters and a sense of further maturation.
Where a past song such as ‘Winter in the South’ dwelled on the anxieties that come with entering your thirties, the songs on Fire seem to embrace the changes that come with this stage of life. The ‘fire’, as Savage himself puts it, is “something you have to escape from, and in a way this album is about escaping from something”, and this album is the result of him escaping the last six years since his last solo effort in an attempt to find a new sense of urgency.
Departing from the city he called his home for so long and opting to record the album in rural England with the help of John Parish on production, and Cate Le Bon and Jack Cooper among his musical collaborators, Several Songs About Fire brings things to the simplest levels possible without losing any of the idiosyncrasies of Savage’s signature style. The arrangements are far from complex or overstated, but have subtle moments that cause ears to prick up.
‘My My, My Dear’, does not sound so far removed from other songs from Savage’s past – there’s the lengthy repetitive structure, continual layers of saxophone honks and deliberately half-arsed guitar breaks and sprawling lyrics, but somehow it feels like Savage is offering a new side to himself on the song through its topic. It’s one of the many songs on the album that reference his departure from his Brooklyn home, confessing how “the cantos of my New York years/are scribed in ink that disappears”.
‘David’s Dead’ is another track that feels pulled from the Parquet Courts vaults, but also has a more personal touch to it, being about the passing of a former neighbour coinciding with him noticing how monotonous life had become for him in New York.
‘Riding Cobbles’ references the location he chose to move to and the new life he has set up for himself in France where he appears to enjoy time “at the seaside” and activities such as “reading more and speaking less English”, but musically sees him adopt a style akin to the quirks of acts like Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci.
There are plenty of other highlights, from the alt-country opener ‘Hurtin’ or Healed’, the sombre lead single ‘Thanksgiving Prayer’ and the acoustic slacker farewell track ‘Out of Focus’, but the album on the whole stands proudly amongst Savage’s already fine body of work.
There aren’t many writers who can deliver such poignance and sardonicism at once, but there’s always a bounty of brilliance in everything A. Savage creates – and Several Songs About Fire proudly keeps this trend alive.